Thursday, December 06, 2007

Buying a GPS

It's an odd thing to have my wife as excited about a new gadget as I am. but that's what happened when I borrowed a coworker's Garmin GPS unit for a trip to the other side of the state last week. After it successfully got us to our destination with nary a forethought by us she said, "Omigod, you are getting me one of these, right?"

Okay then! Time to shop!

Oddly enough, it was only a week before that the multitude of Black Friday shoppng circulars listed various TomToms, Garmins, and Magellans as part of their eearly bird specials, but I was more interested in sleeping in. Luckily there still seem to be many deals to be had out there.

I gotta hand it to Garmin and TomTom (the only two brands I looked at). They do a great job of making so many models of their product that it was virtually impossible to figure out which would be the best to buy. Garmin alone has over 25 models, each with incremental improvements (in some cases) over lesser-numbered models, but with little if any consistency in their numbering scheme. Once I hopped over to Amazon and such to check prices, it got even more confusing as the reviewers on Amazon themselves had trouble keeping track.

I went into Circuit City to put my hands on a few models. Again no consistency with what they displayed. I found it odd that the Garmin 260 (the one I ended up buying) was there on display, but the Garmin tri-fold brochure that sat next to the displays made no mention of the 260. Plus, I got the usual dork pestering me, saying things like, “I dunno, I usually work in the computers section, but I hear a lotta people return the Tomtoms.” Helpful.

So after rummaging through all the info, I narrowed it down to the following criteria:

-I don’t need Europe maps. If I go to Europe I’ll borrow my coworker’s unit.

-I need it to say the street names. “Left turn coming in 200 feet” is not as good as “In 200 feet, turn left on Wahoo Boulevard”. That’s a $50 upgrade from any model that doesn’t say street names.

-I don’t need the widescreen version. Cool, but expensive, and really not needed if the voice is telling me where to turn.

-I don’t need celebrity voices. As cool as it would be to have John Cleese telling me to take the roundabout, it’s up there with custom cell phone ringtones as something I can survive without.

-I don’t need an MP3 player. Many of the more advanced models take a memory card that dishes out MP3’s. Big deal.

-I don’t need an FM transmitter. That would make it tough to listen to the radio at the same time while driving.

-A picture viewer is not necessary, but pretty standard. Again the memory card can hold jpegs and be viewed on the unit. Actually, if it will work with a memory card formatted for my digicam, that might come in handy when we’re on vacation and want to check out the day’s pictures in a screen slightly larger than the LCD on the camera.

-Bluetooth connectivity would be nice, enabling me to use the unit as a hands-free speakerphone for my cell, but a)in some cases that’s a monthly payment option and b)in the case of the Garmin, reviews said the speaker sucks for that use and not to bother. Easy enough.

So in the end, the Garmin 260 was the winner. And it turned out I had enough Amazon credit card points to get the bugger for free.

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